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Families show support for NFCC’s ‘Think Sprinkler’ campaign

24 May 2022

THE FAMILIES of two much loved mothers who lost their lives in a tragic care home fire have backed the National Fire Chiefs Council’s (NFCC) campaign urging the Government to improve sprinkler regulations in England.

Daphne Holloway, aged 88, and Ivy Spriggs, 91, sadly lost their lives after an accidental fire ripped through Newgrange Care Home in Hertfordshire on 8 April 2017. Daphne and Ivy’s daughters, namely Claire Miles and Carole Murray, added their support to the NFCC’s ‘Think Sprinkler’ campaign ‘Week of Action’ which ran from 16-22 May.

While 33 residents were rescued by the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Daphne and Ivy died in their beds as firefighters were unable to reach them.  

The NFCC wants all care homes to be fitted with sprinkler systems in the UK. By retrofitting and requiring new build care homes to have sprinklers, it would be possible to help protect people and these buildings now and also for future generations. With a growing and ageing population, many more people could be reliant on care. That’s an important point to bear in mind.

Reducing fire damage 

Sprinklers reduce fire damage by around 75%, while people are 50% less likely to be injured if they’re installed. On 99% of occasions, sprinklers can control or extinguish a fire. That’s according to research conducted by the NFCC and the National Fire Sprinkler Network.

However, unlike in Scotland, Wales and many other countries, there’s still no requirement in the Building Regulations in England for care homes to be fitted with sprinklers. The NFCC comments: “It is therefore very disappointing and difficult to understand how, and going against the recommendation of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Newgrange Care Home has been rebuilt without sprinklers being installed.”

The inquest into the deaths concluded in February this year and found  “inadequate compartmentation in the roof space had contributed to the deaths”.  

Evidence from the Fire and Rescue Service and an independent fire safety expert highlighted that, if a sprinkler system had been installed, the deaths were likely to have been prevented.

As stated, there’s no Building Regulations requirement for sprinklers to be fitted in care homes in England despite the fact residents can have additional mobility and/or cognitive needs which cause delays in evacuation should a fire occur.

Some care homes do choose to install sprinkler systems for both life and property protection, but these are the exception. The majority do not.

Human cost   

Claire Miles stated: “Yes, there is a cost to fitting sprinklers, but there’s a greater human cost to those who risk life and limb for others. Those firefighters called to Newgrange certainly did that. There’s a cost to losing those we love before their time and in such terrible circumstances.”

Mark Andrews, the NFCC’s lead for higher risk accommodation, observed: “Families should reasonably expect that, when looking for care for loved ones, they should be assured they receive good care and are kept safe, including from the catastrophic risks of fire. We applaud those care homes that have opted to install sprinkler systems. More widespread installation of sprinklers in all care homes will prevent deaths across the UK. Families are encouraged to ask questions of care home managers and owners to ensure their loved ones are adequately protected from fire.”  

Senior Hertfordshire coroner Geoffrey Sullivan wrote to Michael Gover (Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) requesting that action be taken to prevent future deaths. He also formally raised a concern that sprinkler systems are not a mandatory requirement in care homes, whose occupants may have limited or no independent mobility and are therefore at greater risk if a fire scenario should arise.  

The Government’s response has indicated that, as part of the ongoing technical review of Approved Document B, which provides fire safety guidance to meet Building Regulations, there may be future potential changes. This could mean improvements to fire safety measures in housing for vulnerable residents.

Robust regulatory regime

The Government has also stated that analysis for sprinklers in care homes will be accelerated and available this year. It has also pointed out that a more ‘robust regulatory regime’ will apply to higher-risk buildings led by the Building Safety Regulator. This would mean care homes of at least 18 metres in height or of at least seven storeys would fall within this new regime.

However, the NFCC has concerns that this height threshold means care home settings are unlikely to fall within it as they are very rarely more than two or three storeys in height. The definition of ‘high-risk’ buildings should not just apply to high rise, but rather should be widened out to where vulnerable people sleep and consider the needs of those who live in the buildings and their ability to respond to a fire incident.

The Government in England “lags behind” that position adopted in many other developed nations. In Australia, for example, there’s a requirement for sprinklers to be installed in all care homes. Closer to home, in Scotland and Wales it’s the case that sprinklers are already required in both new build and converted care homes.